Dragons 3 Stars 9
Billingham Stars kept up the pressure at the top of National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 with a comprehensive victory in Deeside on Sunday evening, defeating the Dragons 3-9.
The Stars made the long trip to North Wales missing a few bodies in James Moss, Luke Brown, Scott Cooper, Andy Finn, Will Robson and Mark Watson, Ben Gill stepping up to back James Flavell up between the pipes. Billingham looked hungry from the off, Dennis Boström shooting just past the near post with a minute played. A loose puck fell to Cal Davies in the second minute but he managed to put his effort wide from point-blank range. 30 seconds later and Michael Bowman broke down the right wing and got the shot away, Matthew Compton in the Dragons net with the kick save to deny the Player/Coach. The early pressure finally told in the fourth minute when Tom Keeley released Daniel Palmebjörk with a beautiful pass that put the Swede one-on-one with Compton and he made no mistake to put the visitors into the lead. Less than a minute later and Billingham had doubled their advantage, Boström spinning on the blue line and finding Michael Elder in space, his low shot too good for Compton and 0-2 Stars. Billingham were in no mood to let up on their hosts, an Elder slap shot going just past the post in the seventh minute then two minutes later Chris Sykes drifted behind the net and set up Bowman on the backhand, but his effort was just wide once again. The home side were handed an opportunity to get back into the game in the 11th minute when Cal Davies was sinbinned for hooking, but it was the Stars who got themselves on the score sheet when Sykes cut out a pass in the Billingham zone and released Palmebjörk who broke past the last defenceman to shoot low through Compton’s pads for 0-3. Still shorthanded, Boström put the puck onto Bowman’s stick from behind the net in the 12th minute, but his attempted near post tap-in hit Compton’s skate and the post. The Dragons finally started to make a game of things late in the period, Finnish import Markus Kankaanranta hanging onto the puck long enough to make room for himself in the 16th minute but Flavell was able to make the initial save and then clear the puck as the rebound bobbled around in front of him. A minute later Jordan Bannon attempted to put the puck under Flavell but he got down well to cover and ensured the Stars went into the dressing room three goals to the good.
Whatever was said in the interval had an effect on the home side as they came out looking a different team. Within the first minute of play Flavell pulled off the glove save to deny Kankaanranta, Billingham penned into their own zone for long spells thereafter. The Stars forced their way out in the 23rd minute, Boström pinging the post from a Keeley rebound, but as they pushed out they left Kankaanranta alone as the high man, the visitors fortunate that the Finn’s final effort was wide of the mark. It was Filip Supa’s turn to shoot wide as the clock ticked towards the 25-minute mark, but Billingham’s relief did not last long as Ross Kennedy finally made the breakthrough that the Dragons deserved seconds later, the goal just reward for a sustained period of pressure. The home side seemed to switch off as they celebrated, the Stars restoring their three goal cushion a minute later when Boström poked home the loose puck. Boström again tested Compton with a quick shot from a tight angle in the 30th minute before Bowman extended the lead a minute later when he put home a rebound from an initial Palmebjörk shot. Not too discouraged, the home side were still getting the shots in, Flavell gloving a Geoff Wigglesworth effort seconds after the restart, but Boström killed the game as a contest in the 32nd minute when he controlled the puck in the offensive zone and took it into the centre to shoot low past Compton. The Dragons gave themselves a glimmer of hope in the 34th minute when James Parsons finally tucked the puck inside Flavell’s near post following a scramble in front of the net. Compton only just hung onto a Matthew Campbell blast from the point in the 36th minute, then a minute later the Dragons hit the bar with Billingham on the penalty kill. The home side had one final chance to claw a goal back with less than two minutes left in the session after a terrible Stars line change put Parsons clear on goal, but Flavell got down well to make the pad save.
The opening exchanges of the third period were tame as Billingham seemed content to play possession hockey with such a comfortable lead. In the 44th minute Palmebjörk had a half-chance to knock in a high deflected puck but he missed the opportunity. This woke the Stars and 30 seconds later they scored their seventh when Sykes unleashed a bullet of a shot to beat Compton low down into the bottom corner. The visitors’ tails back up, Boström went on the hunt for his hat trick, skating from his own zone before letting fly in the 47th minute, but Compton squeezed the pads to make the save. Billingham kept up the pressure, Sykes breaking out seconds later and setting up Boström – Compton made a great pad save but the puck came out to Jack Watkins who was able to chip it over the prone netminder for 2-8. The Dragons netted a consolation goal in fine style in the 48th minute when Kennedy skated through the whole Stars team before slotting underneath Flavell. In the 50th minute Sykes had the chance to thread a pass through to the lurking Palmebjörk but elected to shoot instead, Compton tipping the effort onto the netting behind the goal. Two minutes later Simon Furnival received a pass in front of goal, Flavell saving well with the pads, then seconds later with play back at the other end Boström went for the near post top corner, Compton just getting the elbow up to deny him. A Boström hat trick seemed inevitable however and it was duly delivered in the 54th minute when Richie Thornton drifted in and waited for Compton to set himself for the shot before passing to the on-form Swede who rifled into the roof of the net. A minute later it could have been ten for the visitors when Bowman broke clear with Palmebjörk, Bowman with the initial shot and Palmebjörk’s attempted poke on the rebound thwarted by some excellent defensive play. Bowman hit the post seconds later as the final meaningful action of a game that Billingham deserved to win, although the score line perhaps flattered the Teessiders in the end, 3-9 the final score.
MVP Dragons Ross Kennedy
MVP Stars Dennis Boström.
Ross Kennedy 2+0; James Parsons 1+0; Scott McKenzie 0+1
SOG: Matthew Compton 47 (14 / 16 / 17)
Report Courtesy of Carol White